Joshua Tree is NOT where the cover of The Joshua Tree was shot

The album cover was shot 200 miles away from Joshua Tree National Park. We were not in the search of the tree like the unfortunate Dutch guy who died while attempting to find it.

However, we were in the search of the desert and Americana. Minna booked us our first AirBnB-accommodation and it had to be special over here so a regular motel room was out of the question. Hip Joshua Tree Airstream was an excellent choice and nicely located as we planned to visit our first national park the next morning.

 

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Kia, Minna and our camper

If you plan to visit several national parks within a year, the cheapest and most convenient option is to buy the America the Beautiful annual pass. With $80 pass you will have free access to all national parks for a year. Usually the entrance costs approximately from $30 to $35 dollars per park. I bought mine in the visitors center in the town of Joshua Tree and we entered the park through the West Entrance Station.

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America The Beautiful annual pass

Joshua Tree National Park is characterized by the Joshua trees which give the scenery a very distinct look. But the park is not only about the trees. Different sections of the park have very different characteristics. The following places can be visited within a one day.

Hidden valley is a labyrinth of rocks and one can imagine how easy it is to get lost here. This is where we also saw a rattlesnake at close range.

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Hidden Valley

 

The Cholla Cactus Garden is full of Chollas which are also called the jumping chollas. They don’t actually attack you but when you happen to have one stuck in your toe, it is very painful to get it off. The spines have microscopic barbs which makes them very sticky.

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Cholla Garden

Keys View has a panoramic view over the Coachella valley and Palm Springs. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit the biggest palliative care unit of the west.

 

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Keys View towards east
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Kia, Airstream and the dark sky at Joshua Tree

We exited the park through the south entrance and took the Christopher Columbus Transcontinental Highway towards east.

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Joshua Tree South Entrance

Looking for salvation

Salvation Panorama

The main attraction of this trip is all things Americana. We are about to see Route 66, Las Vegas, abandoned gas stations and lost highways. So it is only natural to go and look for Salvation Mountain. It is right on our path from San Diego to Joshua Tree. Salvation Mountain is an amazing display of faith and perseverance. Donations of paint are welcome.

Salvation Mountain collage

I had seen a documentary of the Slab City which is conveniently located next to the latex-painted mountain of hay bales. Slab City, The last free place, is a community for free-minded people who want to spend their winter off-grid in an RV in the Sonoran Desert. And yes: Poor Nat.

 

What could have been the end of a lovely relationship

Our flight was due in the evening so we were supposed to be at LAX around 19:00. 500 km drive from Las Vegas to LAX should not be a problem. So we thought. We took our time to wake up and pack our bags as we thought that the boring drive through the desert would be… boring. We didn\’t have breakfast as we planned to stop somewhere.

We stopped at the Nevada-California border to have breakfast at the Whiskey Pete\’s Casino. Maybe some last rounds of slot machines.

We took off and everything went smoothly until this here. Just as the highway started rise towards to mountains, all three lanes stopped. We would spend the next 2 hours driving the 10 km stretch up the slope. Tensions in the car started rising but neither one of us started the blame game. We knew that it would cost us another set of one-way-tickets if we missed our plane. When we reached the top of the pass, we saw that a truck load had been fallen over on the road. And right when we reached the site of the accident, the traffic started moving again. If we\’d make it to Los Angeles in time, we would be there just in time for the rush hour. Of course hopefully driving against the traffic. We couldn\’t afford to miss any exit. And then we missed an exit and had to take a 10 km reroute.

Diamond lane to the rescue: Car pool lanes were mostly empty as people drive usually alone. We had to google how many people are needed in the car to be allowed to drive the diamond lane. It only required 2 persons so we were OK to take the empty lane while all the individual drivers were stuck in traffic.

Two more things to do before the airport: fill the tank and return the car to the rental lot which would be somewhere near the LAX but a bus ride away anyway. I decided to skip the gas station and pay whatever it costs to return the car with an empty tank. Luckily the guy who handled the paperwork at the rental return was kind enough to mark the tank fuller than it actually was. I gave him ten bucks.

During the 7-hour ride from Vegas to LAX neither one of us blamed the other for any delay. There were several occasions where either Minna or I could have said something about being late or missing the exit but we kept our cool and didin\’t start a fight in the middle of the drive. This was really a proof of the strength of our relationship. And we caught our flight eventually so the fight would have been premature anyway. We didn\’t manage to send the post cards though. There just wasn\’t enough time to find a mail box.

It really is a god damn dam

There are several day trips available from Las Vegas. The grandest of them all is of course the Grand Canyon. However, in order to see it properly you will either have to rent a helicopter from Vegas or stay overnight closer to the canyon. As Las Vegas was just a side step on our trip to LA, we wanted to give Grand Canyon the time it deserves, sometime later. So it was either Death Valley or the Hoover Dam. I remember when I had a summer job in the US, some of my fellow summer workers got a job in Death Valley while I lived and worked in the Boston area. Even Boston was hot enough during the summer. Hoover Dam was closer so we drove there.

To our surprise there were two things there which were amazing: the dam itself as well as the bridge. In the movies you usually see people driving across the dam itself but actually the highway doesn\’t run on top of the dam but there is a huge bridge next to the dam. Mike O\’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge clearance is 270 m. So you could almost fit the Eiffel Tower between the bridge and the Lake Mead.

The Hoover Dam is so famous that ticking it off from the bucket list while in Vegas is worth the 50 km drive.

Breaking the Las Vegas rule

I am going to be the first one in human history to break the famous \”What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas\”-rule. The following really happened in Vegas:

My must-sees in Vegas are:

and last but not least:
The first experience is of course the Arrival. Ours was like this:

Accommodation: We chose to stay in the MGM Grand. We booked the room from hotels.com and it cost 63 €/night. A bargain compared to LA. A small drawback was the resort fee which hotels.com didn\’t mention but apparently is standard practice even if booked from elsewhere. The room didn\’t have a view to the Strip but who cares. Also free parking was available.

The gamble: Slots everywhere. Mostly table games had a minimum bet of $10 or even more. If you had a black jack or a roulette with less than $10 minimum, the table was \”automatic\” without a live dealer. We played slot machines. The sound was hypnotic. Whenever you won, you just couldn\’t stop playing because of the ring. The drinks were free as long as you sat by a machine. While I was away getting my membership card, Minna hit the jackpot. With a 1 cent bet, it wasn\’t really a lot of money but it was a lot of ringing.

Neon museum is also called the Neon Boneyard. It\’s the place where the neon signs go to die. Or actually to get refurbished and their stories told. Book your slot beforehand and remember that the tours fill up very quickly. You will need to attend a tour as the guest are constantly supervised and cannot explore the museum on their own. This is really a must-see as it has some of the signs of long gone casinos and landmarks.

The show: We tried to book seats for O Cirque du Soleil through the internet but for some reason the transaction didn\’t go through. So we had to walk to Bellagio to find out that the show was fully booked. However, if you will wait in line 1 hour before the show, there may be some leftover seats. The thing is: you don\’t know which seats you\’re going to get and especially how much they are. Or you will end up queueing for an hour and the show is sold out anyway and you just spent an hour in the queue for nothing. As we wanted to get the show-box ticked as soon as possible, we waited in line and got quite good and reasonably-priced tickets, if you can call them reasonably-priced in the first place as they are always very expensive.

The buffet: Based on a thorough investigation on the Internet, we chose The Bacchanal at Ceasars Palace with a wine package. We soon realized that we could have left out the wine package as there was so much to eat that drinking wine at the same time would be too much. Even eating was too much. Stone crabs, sushi, shrimps, jumbo shrimps, meats, pizza, you name it. Come dessert and you will feel sick.

The silver ball: I knew there had to be pinball arcade in Las Vegas and really there was a good one: The Pinball Hall of Fame. Lots of games, lots of modified games (for example Scared Stiff with colored animations as opposed to my original orange-colored animations) and lots of rare games. Even Space Mission which I had played last time in Pekan Baari when I was 10 years old. And of course Kiss (Bally)

On the way to the city which made Hangovers totally acceptable

I have always wanted to go to Vegas. Not only to gamble (mainly because Minna doesn\’t let me) but to see the atmosphere but also the Stratosphere. The drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas was absolutely amazing…ly boring. However, worth to do at least once.

The distance is about 450 km. We stopped twice. The first stop was in Calico Ghost Town which was kind of a disappointment. It wasn\’t actually a Ghost Town, just a tourist attraction. You basically had to pay an entrance fee to a streetful of shops where you could by some tourist junk. 
The next stop was right after the border of Nevada. Primm Outlets. It was a mini-Las Vegas with gambling, shopping and rides for families whose children have turned their parents crazy so that their dad doesn\’t want to drive any further. Only 72 km to go.